Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Number Line of Faith


I was having some great conversations with people about the gospel on our short-term mission trip to New Zealand.  We gathered each night so that the team leader could record the daily statistics to send back to the mission organisation and I would eagerly tell about my experiences.  The only problem was that my efforts didn’t seem to count.  Unless I’d gone through an entire Christian tract with someone or led them in a prayer to receive Christ, there wasn’t a box to tick on the tally sheets.  I felt like a bit of a failure in my evangelistic attempts until I remembered something I had heard about the number line of faith. 

Think of someone’s spiritual journey as a number line that goes from -10 through zero to +10.  At -10 the person is far from God and not receptive to hearing about him.  As the person moves closer to zero, they’re more open to spiritual things.  Zero is the point at which they become a Christian. As they read the Bible, pray, and learn more about God, they grow in their Christian walk and move further along the number line of faith.  That gave me a new perspective.  I wasn’t a failure if someone didn’t become a Christian when I shared with them.  I could still help them in their journey.  It also reminded me that God is the one who does the converting.  He’s already working in someone’s life long before I talk to them.  I may come across them when they’re -7, -1, or +4; but I can join God in His work.  Others may have different roles in that work, but it’s not up to us to compare ourselves to them.  We’re all part of a team just as Paul and Apollos were part of a team (see 1 Cor. 3:3-9).

So what does this have to do with writing?  I recently read an article that looked at the debate about whether Christian novelists should stick with Christian publishers or try for the mainstream market.  In that article and elsewhere, there has also been discussion about what should or should not be included in a ‘Christian’ novel.  There are arguments on both sides and it’s not my aim to canvas them here.  As I’ve been reflecting on this, however, I wonder if the number line of faith could be a helpful tool in thinking about the markets for which we write.

Which segment of that number line do you see as your main audience?  Are you called to help new Christians learn about what it means to be a follower of Christ?   Do you want to challenge mature Christians to move from complacency to action, or help them work through deeper issues of life that don’t have pat answers?  Maybe you feel led to reach those who are seeking, but have not yet committed to one faith over another.  Your writing might help them consider the claims of Christ and move them towards accepting Him as their Saviour.  Other writers may be more concerned about those who are currently far from God and the aim is to bring them to the point where they will at least consider spiritual issues. 

Each audience requires a different kind of writing.  Someone at -9 will be turned off by scripture references in the first few pages of a novel, whereas someone at -2 might be quite happy to read about characters who pray when they’re in difficult situations.  Rather than debating whether we should aim for Christian or mainstream publishers, we should seek God about the direction to take, hone our mission statements, and then aim for the appropriate market.

Of course the reality is not as neat as the examples I’ve given.  The same book can have a number of layers that touch people at different stages of their spiritual journeys.  The same author may also write different books that are pitched at various types of readers.  However, thinking and praying about the audience we hope to reach can help us to be more focused and effective in our writing. 

Which side of the number line best gels with your mission statement?

 
Nola Passmore is a freelance writer who has had more than 80 short pieces published in various magazines, journals, and anthologies (including true stories, devotions, poetry and short fiction). She has a passion for writing about what God has done in her life and encouraging others to do the same. (Some call it "nagging", but she calls it "encouragement").

 

24 comments:

  1. Florence Nightingale referred to statistics as 'the measure of God's purpose'. While I can see the point in collecting and analysing amputation and death statistics in a Crimean hospital, it's not so easy to quantify a 'scale' of Christian conversion.

    It's just as hard to apply to Christian publishing. I've spent the last week writing an article on this for the next Omega newsletter, and the hardest part was condensing 2000+ words to the 600-700 word count limit! It's a huge topic.

    As with many things, the answer must be to stay close to God and trust that he will direct your (writing) path.

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    1. Thanks Jennifer Ann. I think the best books do have layers.

      Cheers

      Nola

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  3. Thanks for that Iola. It is hard to quantify. You're right in that the important thing is to stay close to God and trust in his direction.

    Cheers

    Nola

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  4. Hi Nola

    I'm with you on this one. As Paul says one sows, another waters,while another reaps. Coming to faith if Jesus is a journey and usually many of God's children have been part of that journey along the way. And as you say, ultimately it is God through His Spirit who converts. The number line of faith (i.e. the Engel Scale developed by James Engel) is a great way to visualize this. http://www.internetevangelismday.com/engel.php

    I explore some of these same issues in an earlier post Saints, Seekers and Sleepers. "It means engaging the reader wherever they are on their spiritual journey. It may mean a layered approach or moving one step at a time. To be honest ... I am sure that as Christian writers we are called to write the stories God gives us. To paraphrase Whittaker, any story that brings people further along on their journey towards God is evangelistic.So a large part of why I write is to strengthen the saints, guide seekers and to begin to awaken sleepers so that they might turn to the Light." http://christianwritersdownunder.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/saints-seekers-and-sleepers.html

    It's wonderful to see others working through how our writing can impact those who are yet to know Christ.

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  5. Hi Jenny

    Thanks for that. I somehow missed your blog post. Have just read it now and it really resonates with me. Thanks too for giving the reference for the Engel Scale. Someone had just told me about it many years ago and I didn't know where it had come from. It's a topic I've been thinking through lately in relation to my own writing, and I'm still nutting it out. Thanks for your thoughts. Gives me more food for thought :)

    Cheers

    Nola

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    1. Hi Nola

      Something I'm working through too. I'm aiming for a secular market with the fantasy series I'm writing at the moment and working out how to weave faith through the narrative in an intriguing and catching way. I think I'm going to have to read Light between the Oceans and Vienna Prelude.

      Jenny

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    2. Hi Jenny - I really loved the moral dilemmas in the Light Between Oceans. Something that starts out so black and white becomes more grey as the book continues. Really got me thinking. Vienna Prelude was a bit of an eye opener for me wrt a lot of the historical background - it's set in Germany and Austria in 1936/7 and I lovedt he characters. Both books were beautifully written. I've put reviews of both of them on Goodreads if you're interested in more.

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  6. Thanks Nola, the number line of faith is a useful tool for me to use as I think about it in relation to my own writing.

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  7. Thanks for that feedback Susan. Appreciate it.

    Cheers

    Nola

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  8. Thanks Nola for that thought provoking post. I agree that we may not tick many boxes sometimes but be perfectly in the will of God. And that should always be enough. It's interesting that we are all called to be writers but in different ways. My main writing so far has been to Christians - I've felt led to encourage and bless and inspire others as my chief calling. But a writer's journey is so exciting - since God calls us to different things at different times. I would love to write a novel aimed at non Christians too - with a beautiful story that makes them realise that indeed there is a wonderful God out there who loves and cares for them.

    Bless you for sharing,
    Anusha

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  9. Hi Anusha - Thanks for that. I think you're so right that God can call us to different things at different times. I write for both Christians and non-Christians, and am still learning what works best in each context. You certainly have been a blessing to many Christians with your book and blog. I'm sure God will give you a wonderful idea for the novel you want to write. I'll look forward to reading it. Cheers ... Nola

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    1. Thanks Nola. I do have a vague idea for it. And a title! :) The only thing lacking is time to write it. Am sure that will arrive at the right time! Bless you for your encouragement.
      Love
      Anusha xo

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  10. It's like the casting your bread on the waters, Nola. We have no idea who is going to read our books. All my characters are at different levels in their life's journey. Tyndale House requires the protagonists to be Christians right from the start. That doesn't always fit my type of stories as my main characters usually have major struggles. I feel that's closer to real life. I simply commit each novel to the Lord, write( & rewrite) the story, and then pray it will minister to someone's need now or in the future.

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    1. Thanks Rita. That's so true. We don't know who'll be touched by what we write and we just need to commit it to God. I like the way your characters have major struggles. I'm currently reading a Christian book where the heroine is just too good to be true (maybe her flaws will come out as I keep reading, but I'm about 150 pages in). It's hard to relate to people like that. Good on you for making your characters real. I'm sure that touches people more. God Bless ... Nola

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  11. I think the number line of faith probably applies to all aspects of our lives, doesn't it? We can rate each area on a scale of 1-10. Does the way we deal with others turn them on to... or off our brand of Christianity? We all know people that we struggle to believe are Christians, simply because of their actions. It's a good thing we can leave that area up to God! :)

    For me, the quality of writing overrides everything else. I don't particularly like biblical references in a novel, it takes me straight out of the book, but I love to see how writers make characters real with all their faults. That's what I want, real characters not overly sanitised versions which are unbelievable.

    I think if we look hard enough, we can find deeply hidden messages in almost any book. It may be something that pertains to only us, rather than something the author has deliberately placed in there. Does that make sense?

    You're totally right though, thinking and praying about our, or should that be God's, intended audience is a must.

    Great post.

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  12. Hi Lee - Thanks for that. I find that number line helpful in many areas. It really freed me up from years of thinking I wasn't very good at sharing my faith. You're so right that the way we deal with others can turn them onto or off our brand of Christianity. I often pray that no-one will turn away from God because of anything I say or do. Of course we can't be perfect, but it's good to remember.

    And yes, I know what you mean about hidden messages in a book. I recently read a mainstream book called "The Light Between Oceans" by M. L. Stedman. I don't know if the author is a Christian or not, but it made me wrestle with faith issues more than many Christian books I've read. I also recently read "Vienna Prelude" by Christian authors Bodie and Brock Thoene and it also really challenged me. Both books had Christian elements and faith issues woven seamlessly into the narrative, I'd rate both 5 stars, and they both really touched me though one is in the Christian market and one is in the mainstream market. As you say, the quality of the writing overrides everything else. If it's a great story well told, it will find its mark. If we seek God while we're writing and follow his direction, He will do the rest.

    Thanks for your comments.

    Nola

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  13. I LOVE Vienna Prelude, so beautifully written. Brock and Bodie Thoene are right up there among my favourite authors. And, yes, they always manage to challenge the reader with faith issues.

    Glad there's another fan out there. :)

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    1. Hi Lee - That was the first book of theirs I've read and it had me hooked. Have just bought the second book in the series and looking forward to getting into it :)

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  14. I couldn't agree more Nola - very insightful article and I love the illustration of the scale. Whether we plant, water, harvest or empower it doesn't matter. Like the unpredictable God I know and love, my writing isn't fixed on any part of the scale, I write from his inspiration and that can lead anywhere. The blessing is in the privilege of encouraging others further in the direction of God doing what we love.

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  15. Thanks Kayleen. Yes, I love the way that we can all play a different role in what God's doing. I guess I had a mindset in the past that the one who actually got the person over the goal line was more effective in ministry. But I've come to see that we're all planting seeds and we don't know where that will lead. As it says in that verse, God's the one who makes it grow. I think we'll probably all be surprised when we get to heaven and find out how many people we may have touched without even knowing it. Take care.

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  16. Sorry I'm a bit late with this comment, but I really like that analogy you made.
    I often think of Christians as a spiritual chain leading from earth to heaven - some further ahead, some further behind, but everyone encouraged in the Lord to help the next person up. Similar concept, I guess :)
    Keep up the good work!

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  17. Thanks Margaret. I like your analogy too. We can all help each other move along the line or the chain to a deeper relationship with God.

    Take care

    Nola

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